With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Friday, June 27, 2014


John Hurt, with glasses, Chris Evans, center, and Jamie Bell, right, at the tail of the train

Last night, Thursday, June 26th, I had a wonderful evening at the Walter Reade Theater of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. BOON Joon-ho's fabulous science fiction thriller Snowpiercer was shown in all it 125 minute uncut glory and afterwards Director Boon (The Host, Mother) took part in an interview and Q&A with Subway Cinema Co-Founder and Executive Director Goran Topalovic.

Tilda Swinton as Mason, Wilford's chief spokesperson

When the Weinstein Company logo came up during the opening credit, I let out a long, not particularly loud but clear "hiss." This elicited considerable laughter from the audience, many of whom clearly were well aware of the hostility Harvey Weinstein generated amongst Asian film fans with his desire to have Snowpiercer's running time shortened for American audiences, as he had Wong Kar Wai do with The Grandmaster.

SONG Kang-ho as Namgoong Minsoo

As far as the movie itself goes, it's set in the not too distant future. An attempt to fix global warning has succeeded too well and has brought on a world-wide ice age. Only a thousand or so human beings are still alive, and they live on a train that continuously travels around the world. Their is a definite hierarchy amongst the passengers. At the very head of the train, in charge of its perpetual motion engine is Wilford (Ed Harris), an entrepreneur who had been a train enthusiast since his childhood and had created the train and in its route. At the tail of the train are the lowest of the low, the "unwashed masses" who subsist on "protein bars" made out of you-don't-want-to-know-what. In between are the well off and the security forces that keep them safe. One of Wilford's spokesperson functionaries is Mason, played by an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton. She reminds those in the tail that there's a place for everyone on the train and that everyone should remain in their place. Her speeches are punctuated by the refrain "and so it is."

In the school car of the train

Chris Evans -- looking nothing like his Captain America character -- plays Curtis, the reluctant leader of a revolt of the "tail people." To make it to the front of the train and gain control of the engine, he obtains the assistance of Namgoong Minsoo (SONG Kang-ho) to open the security gates between the cars by bribing hims with Kronole, an addictive substance which is inhaled. Both Namggong, who designed the security system, and his daughter, Yona (KO Ahsung) are addicted to Kronole.

Along the way there are several violent confrontations with the security forces, startling revelations of how the "one-percenters" live, all of which culminates in a startling face-off between Curtis and the finally-revealed Wilford.

Goran Topalovic (left), BOON Joon-ho (center) and the translator (right)

In the interview/Q&A afterwards, the charming BOON, who spoke mainly in Korean but often briefly punctuated his remarks in English, provided numerous insights into the film. Although the story is based on Le Transperceneige, a graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette, the film differs from it in major ways. The whole idea of revolution, for example, came from the director; it is not in the original source material. BOON also said that it was not that difficult working primarily with English-speaking actors and dialogue, mainly because the process of making a film is much the same everywhere in the world.

One way in which it did differ, and presented him with somewhat of a problem, was the need to deal with unions, something he doesn't face when making films in South Korea. Also challenging was the need to comply with rules for child actors. He was concerned because one fairly lengthy scene involved about fifty children. He explained that he was able to move shooting along at a good pace for that scene by dividing the children into two groups and filming one group in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

I happened to become aware of one interesting piece of information in the lobby afterwards. I overheard someone talking about KO Ahsung, who plays Yona, the daughter of SONG Kang-ho's character. Currently just shy of her 22nd birthday, she had played  Hyun-seo, the little girl that was taken by the monster in BOON's The Host (2006), when she was thirteen year old. I found this to be an interesting little factoid that I hadn't seen in any writings about Snowpiercer.

As I said, it was a great evening all-around.

AsianCineFest Rating for Snowpiercer: 4 out of 4 stars; highest recommendation. One of the best thrillers I've seen in a long time.

Starting today, Friday, June 27th, Snowpiercer will begin a one week run at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center as part of the New Releases at the Film Society film series. Director BOON Joon-ho will participate in Q&As at the 6:15om screenings on Friday and Saturday.